Unit leaders in the United States Army are in charge of organizing and structuring counseling sessions for soldiers. This crucial task is usually completed by a form issued by the US Department of Army (DA) called DA Form 4856, Developmental Counseling Form. While there are many variations of this document online, only one edition – the one released on July 1, 2014 – is meant for official use as it was released by the Department of the Army. Let’s take a closer look at this document and what it does.
What Is a DA Form 4856?
The DA 4856 – not to be confused with DD Form 4856 – is an official form issued by the DA and used to organize, structure, and document the counseling sessions provided to soldiers in the US Army by their unit leaders. Its use is limited to military counseling, and all the data it collects is usually confidential unless the soldier agrees to disclose it. Generally, the document is used during:
- Negative behavior assessments
- Counseling sessions about career
- Counseling for events to promote the positive performance or address a disciplinary matter.
- Provision of positive feedback on behavior or performance
- Follow-ups after regular sessions
When Is a DA Form 4856 Needed?
Individual counseling sessions are usually event-oriented, professional, or behavioral. The latter are organized when a soldier goes against Army rules of conduct or makes a mistake. When this is the case, the counselor must reveal what exactly the soldier did and identify what actions they must take to correct the issue. The soldier, in turn, must understand the possible punishments and learn about their responsibility in the matter. DA Form 4856 will be required to record this information.
In terms of professional counseling, the form will be used to reveal to the soldier the career growth opportunities and skill improvement chances they can take advantage of to advance their career. A form prepared for event-oriented counseling could come in handy when:
- New soldiers or staff members join a unit.
- Soldiers are sent to a new setting for specialized counseling, such as to the military Chaplain or medical center.
- A soldier goes through a family event, e.g., divorce, marriage, or loss of a loved one.
Why Is It important?
Counseling sessions in the Army can be conducted regularly or as a response to a recent event. Regardless of the nature of the session, the primary goal is to discuss something that must be changed and implemented by the soldier. The DA Form 4856 helps ensure the requested changes are fair, goal-aligned, clear, timely, and workable for the soldier.
Essential Elements of DA Form 4856
A DA Form 4856 collects information about the counselor, the person being counseled, and the counseling session itself. It usually consists of the following elements:
- Administrative Details: This includes the full and legal name (last, first, middle initial) and grade or rank of the person being counseled, the organization, counseling date, and the counselor’s name and title.
- Background Date: This is a brief description of the purpose of the counseling, i.e., is it professional, behavioral, or event-oriented?
- Counseling Summary: This refers to the key points made during the session, the agreed-upon plan of action, leadership responsibilities, and section closing. It is usually completed during or immediately after a counseling session.
- Plan of Action Assessment: This section determines whether the set action plan produced the desired results.
- Any additional notes about the session.
- The counselee’s name, signature, and signature date.
- The counselor’s name, signature, and signature date.
Army Counseling Forms
How to Fill Out DA Form 4856?
The DA Form 4856 is very easy to fill out because most of the sections are self-explanatory. Once you know what a section is asking for, all you need to do is fill in the required details correctly. Below is a guide to help you complete the four parts of this document:
1. Part I
Part 1 of the form requires you to input personal information about the person being counseled. This includes their full legal name, organization, and rank. Once you supply these details, you must also enter the counselor’s identifying information.
2. Part II
Part 2 is usually completed by the counselor before the counseling session begins. It is a brief overview of the case and the reason for the session. Generally, it describes the events that led to the session and what the counseling is supposed to achieve.
3. Part III
Part 3 is a summary of the counseling session and must be completed during or immediately after the session. In this section, the counselor must set goals and workable action plans for the soldier.
4. Part IV
Part 4 takes a look at the goals and action plans defined in part 3. It allows the counselor to determine whether the actions taken were useful to the person being counseled and creates follow-up points for the next session.
Counseling sessions in the Army are categorized as event-oriented, professional, and behavioral.
Some counseling sessions have specific timelines, e.g., monthly, annually, quarterly, etc. However, derogatory counseling sessions have no time limits.
While you cannot be forced to sign the DA Form 4856, if you disagree with counseling, you should sign the form but comment that you disagree with the statement.
No. Soldiers should not be counseled more than once for the same offense. That said, a repeat can be arranged if the first counselor does not conduct the process effectively or fails to include key elements that make the counseling legally sufficient.
Soldiers are allowed to challenge negative counseling in writing.
DA Form 4856 is an official document – one of the many – used by the US Army to record activities that involve personnel. It is usually filled out when a soldier undergoes a counseling session, and both the soldier and the counselor must sign it. Generally, the Army preserves the form until the soldier retires and the information is never accessible to the public.